Lincoln Issues Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction
December 8, 1863. In his December 8, 1863 annual message to Congress, President Lincoln offered, as historian Harold Holzer explained, “a new policy that looked past the fighting to the eventual restoration of the Union. Lincoln’s Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction proposed to re-establish state governments in the rebellious states upon approval of only 10 percent of all voters who had participated in the 1860 election. And it offered to pardon all rebels who took an oath of loyalty to the Union. But Lincoln’s magnanimity went only so far. The proclamation specifically excluded high-ranking Confederate military and naval officers, ‘officers or agents of the so-called confederate government’ (small ‘c’ intentional), and ‘all who have engaged in any way in treating colored persons or white persons . . . unlawfully as prisoners of war.'”
Historian Philip Kundhardt, Jr. tells us that after the proclamation was issued, John Hay wrote, “I have never seen such an effect produced by a public document. Men acted as if the millennium had come. . . . [Abolitionist Representative from Illinois and Lincoln supporter Owen] Lovejoy . . . said it was glorious. ‘I shall live,’ he said, ‘to see slavery ended in America. . . . ‘ [Rep. Francis William] Kellogg of Michigan . . . said, ‘The President . . . is the great man of the century. . . . He sees more widely and clearly than anybody.'”
Kunhardt adds that “[e]ven such usual critics as Horace Greeley had to agree it was ‘devilish good.’ The voices of those who wished for harsher treatment of the South were lost in the commotion, and the bilateral support that had so long evaded Lincoln was finally washing him in praise.”
The New York Times Complete Civil War 1861-1865, Harold Holzer & Craig L. Symonds, eds., p. 293. Lincoln, An Illustrated Biography, Philip B. Kunhardt Jr., et al, p.224.
Editor’s note: This entry was submitted by Peter A. Gilbert, Vermont Humanities Council, executive director